Parshas Va’Yeshev – Shaming a person in public

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A terrible scandal was brewing. Tomor, Yehudah’s daughter in law, was about to be taken out to be burned to death, yet she refused to tell anyone that it was Yehudah who was her real husband. She’d rather allow herself to be burned to death than to embarrass him in public. Under no circumstances would she reveal the secret, since she didn’t want to shame Yehudah.

Now that the court had sentenced her to be burned according to the laws of those days she had every reason in the world to reveal the secret and save not only her life but the life of her two twin children that were about to be born. Yet she remained silent. If not for the fact that Yehudah had the great courage to admit his guilt, she would have actually been burned at the stake and died an innocent and tragic death, taking her two children with her. No wonder her reward was so great. Kings and prophets descended from her. Only the noblest women in the world could have shown such sensitivity to the shame of others.

Yet the Gemorrah learns from this story, and by the way it is also a din in Shulchan Aruch, that a person is required to throw himself into a burning fire rather than put someone to shame in public. This means that one cannot say that only a great tzadekes like Tomor must act this way, but even the simplest person is required to act in such a way. This is not a midas chassidus only for the great tzadikim. No person has the right to shame another in public, even if it means being burned or shot. Tough requirement! Of course. But the Torah requires us to lay our very life on the line, rather than shaming another person, in the same way that we are to give up our life rather than be over (transgress) the three cardinal sins (l) gilui arayos, (2) shefichas domim, and (3) avodah zoroh.

In Mesechta Kesubos 67: we find a most interesting story. Mar Ukvah had a poor person who lived next to him. Mar Ukvah would always slip a few coins under his door without the poor person ever knowing from where it came. This avoided the poor person’s embarrassment, and is therefore a higher madreigoh in the giving of tzedakah.

One time, the poor man, who was very curious to find out who his secret benefactor was, stood by the door to see who was putting the money under the crack of his door. As Mar Ukvah and his wife approached, he quickly opened the door to see who had slipped the money beneath it. Mar Ukvah and his wife quickly turned around and ran away as fast as they could. They wanted to do the mitzvah of tzedakah without giving the poor man the slightest embarrassment. They quickly ran into the house and tried to find a good hiding place. Seeing an oven in front of them they quickly jumped in. Certainly the poor man wouldn’t think of searching for them in a hot oven (whose coals had just been removed). The poor man searched in vain but couldn’t find them.

When Mar Ukvah and his wife saw that the coast was clear they came out of the oven. Mar Ukvah, however, had burned the bottom of his feet, while his wife was completely untouched. He felt very bad, thinking to himself that this must be because he wasn’t being mekayem the mitzvah of zedakah as properly as he should have done. But his wife calmed his fears. “I’m home all day,” she explained to him, “and therefore, whenever a poor man comes along I immediately give him some food to eat, whereas you only give him money with which he must go and buy food”. This little extra convenience is what makes the entire difference. Yes, every little bit counts. Even the few minutes it takes to take the money and exchange it for food makes a difference. That’s why his wife remained untouched by the hot oven, while he was slightly scorched.

This teaches us another very important lesson. Even when we do help someone else, we must try to help him as quickly as possible. The faster we do it, the greater the mitzvah.

We also see from this story to what great extent Mar Ukvah and his wife went just in order not to embarrass the poor man. Certainly this is going “lifnim mishuras hadin.” Nobody is required to jump into an oven in such a case. The Gemorrah is just showing us to what great madreigoh a person can lift himself. A person doing a mitzvah properly can elevate himself to such a degree that even a fire has no effect on him.

Maybe we’ll never be on the great madreigoh of Mar Ukvah and his wife, but we must certainly be extremely careful never to embarrass someone in public. For if one embarrasses someone in public he stands to lose his olam haba – the World-to-Come.

It’s time we become more conscious of what we say in front of others. It takes only one word to embarrass someone else, and there goes your olam haba down the drain! You must forever be aware of every word you say. Just because everyone laughs at someone doesn’t mean you can join in. If someone gives a stupid answer to a question and you belittle him for it, then that’s considered embarrassing him. If he is a bad ball-player and you degrade him in front of the rest of the team, that’s called miaxa exag ipt oialnd.

You may win the game, but you lose your olam haba. It’s certainly not a fair trade.

Let’s all learn a lesson from the story of Tomor, who was rewarded with kings and neviyim descending from her for her great deed. Hashem pays back midoh k‘neged midoh – deed for deed.


Color War

Some win. Some lose. Yet overall, it’s the exciting contest that finishes off the summer with a bang in all camps.

It brings out lots of hidden talent that would otherwise lie dormant. It’s an outlet that reveals what many of us can accomplish when we concentrate our efforts, energy and desires towards a challenging goal. The accomplishments are enormous. And when learning itself becomes a contest, and there are points to be earned for each Mishnah or Halacha studied, the hidden talents suddenly emerge and burst forth like a powerfully erupting volcano, whose mighty strength one never knew existed. Color War, even though no more than a childish game, seems to muster our innermost strength and powers and reveals our real potential if we give it all we have.

Yet, in accordance with a kind of Murphy’s law, the greater the Torah accomplishment, the more reason for the Soton to join the fun. You may not have noticed him, but that’s only because of his clever camouflage. But you needn’t worry! He’s there all right, laughing hysterically at our blindness and inability to detect his clever masquerade. But where is he, you ask? Let me help you find him!

During the morning Dvar Halacha a talented counselor gave a dramatic and masterful Halacha speech (worth 25 points) on the topic of: One who shames his friend in public loses his share in the world to come. His delivery was superb and his content inspiring. He touched everyone’s heart. He left everyone convinced of the danger of shaming another person. All was fine and well until the lunch skit began.

It was a comedy that matched Abbott and Costello. Even the opposing team, that tried its very best to keep a serious face, was forced to burst out in uncontrollable laughter. The skit was a parody of some of the counselors of the opposite team, done with superb impersonation. It sent everybody toppling off their chairs and rolling on the floor. And by the way, the one laughing hardest was none other than the Soton himself.

Interestingly enough, the main actor was none other than the very same counselor who had so ably preached during his morning Halacha about the danger of shaming another person publicly. What hetter could he now have found to get up in front of more than 300 boys and ridicule, shame, and embarrass some counselors of the opposing team?

His rationalization must have been quite simple. “It’s all in fun. Nobody really minds.” It’s quite difficult to digest such simplistic answers. Can one actually get up and insult others in public and claim that it’s all in jest? Even when the target laughs along, how can one know his inner feelings? Or how can one know what he will feel when people throw those funny lines at him long after Color War is over?

But let’s take it a step further. Even when the person gave his full sincere consent to poke fun at him, it still sends a dangerous message to the listener. It clearly tells everyone that making fun of people is permissible as long as it’s done “only in jest.” What a horrifying lesson these 300 young boys went away with, especially when they see the adult judges, who may even include some of their rebbeyim, sitting up front and laughing along. The message is obvious. This very live, real-life, hands-on lesson far outweighs any mussar shmues or dvar Torah they may hear later. Even the best classroom lesson is no match for what the child sees in real life. Children learn more from example, than from sermons.

Perhaps this is what chazal mean when they say that “To serve a Tzaddik is even greater than learning from him.” Observing a great Tzaddik is of greater value than his teachings. That’s because, as we all know, “Action speaks louder than words.”

Just imagine what goes through the mind of a child when he hears one of his rebbeyim belittled in public. Perhaps the rebbi can swallow his pride, or may not mind at all. Yet, in a child’s mind, the ridicule has triggered a permanent loss of respect that may never be corrected. Children are extremely impressionable. The damage may last forever.

Who hasn’t witnessed the deep pain inflicted by embarrassing “grammen” hurled in “innocent jest.” The victim’s red face is a dead giveaway of the real hurt concealed in his heart. Long after the burst of laughter subsides, the wounded victim continues to suffer in silent shame. He may smile and laugh in everyone’s presence, but the hurt lingers on.

“It’s better to jump into the flames of a raging fire than to embarrass someone in public,” is the lesson our Chazal derive from the story in this week’s Parsha of Yehuda and Tamar. The court had sentenced her to be burned, according to the laws that applied in those days. She had every reason in the world to reveal her secret and not only save her own life but also the life of the two children she was bearing. Had Yehuda not admitted his guilt, she would have been burned, and died a shameful, tragic, painful – and innocent – death. Yet Tamar preferred death to the sin of shaming someone in public.

For that reason, many camps require that all “grammen” go through strict censorship, but I’m afraid that even with the tightest control something is bound to slip by. When it is over – and too late – we say, “If only we had had the sense to eliminate it entirely!” A Grand Sing is far more beautiful if “laitzonus” is left out. After all, not all counselors have the fifth sense to distinguish between good and bad taste. If even one person’s feelings is hurt then the entire Color War was not worth it. After all, who would trade his share in Olam Habo for a couple of extra points for his team?

And while we’re on the subject, let me just add one more observation.

A Color War break out is certainly fun and adds to the excitement. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a helicopter dropping some leaflets, which declare, “Color War is here!” But when the break out involves lying to the children, then it’s wrong, and should not be done, no matter how much the fun. A child that sees that he can be lied to even once soon learns to mistrust you even when you speak the truth. Any Color War break out that has lying as an ingredient should be ruled out. In fact, who needs a break out at all. The game can be just as much fun without any breakouts.

So, let’s remember. Color War is a beautiful game, but let’s not choose the Yetzer Hora into it, for if you allow him to sneak in through the back door you’ll soon find him taking center stage.


Would you like to get tested?

In this Parsha we find Yosef HaTzaddik faced with the greatest test of his entire life. He now found himself in a strange land, in an environment filled with the lowest of morals, a land known to be filled with the greatest tumah. Mitzrayim was known as the most morally corrupt country in the ancient world.

Yosef had finally worked his way up from a common slave to the highest and most respected position in the house of his master. He realized that his master’s wife was after him. The temptation was very great. After all, the Gemorrah tells us that the greater the zaddik the greater his yetzer hora. Certainly Yosef HaTzaddik would find it extremely difficult to resist her constant advances. She offered him gold, honor, the greatest riches, if only he would agree to sin with her. She enticed him in every possible way. She put on the prettiest dresses and changed them every morning and evening. Certainly it took the greatest of efforts to overcome the strong yetzer hora luring him. It was the vision of his father’s face, and his knowledge that his whole olam haba was at stake, that helped Yosef overcome her powerful temptations. Certainly nobody would ever wish to be put into such a most difficult test and in similar circumstances.

We find in the Gemorrah (Sanhedrin 107) that Dovid HaMelech challenged Hashem to test him, yet we know the results of that test. Even the great Dovid HaMelech failed. Imagine how much worse we would have fared! Certainly a person must do everything in his power not to allow himself to be put into such a dangerous situation.

Yet sometimes I wonder if we’re actually not asking for trouble. For at no time in history has it been so easy to bring the corruption and filth of the outside world into the very privacy of our own home. Never before have we brought the temptation of the outside world so close to us. The morals of Mitzrayim have invaded the very privacy of our homes. At the mere click of a switch one is exposed to the horror scenes of the three worst sins and sees them re-enacted right before his eyes. Avodah Zoroh, shefichas domim and gillui aroyos are spoon-fed to us even during a simple supposedly neutral news broadcast. It all comes to us in vivid color, without the slightest shame. Nobody even seems offended or slighted in the least by this cheap disgusting filth. How terribly frightening this all is!

The morals of Mitzrayim have invaded the very privacy of our homes.

Do we think that we are on the level of a Yosef HaTzaddik and able to resist this? Do we really believe that we are able to remain unaffected by all the filth being beamed at us at an astronomical rate? Are we really positive that it will have absolutely no influence on us?

How dare we even take such chances? How dare we allow ourselves to be put into such a difficult predicament? How dare we allow these visions of perversion and destruction to even enter our home? What has happened to us? Have we become so callous that we don’t even realize the danger? Are we so sure that we can resist all the temptations?

Do you think Yosef HaTzaddik would have allowed himself to be put into a similar situation if he could have helped himself? Certainly not! No person should ever allow himself to be put into such a dangerous situation. For who knows what the results can chas v’sholom be. It’s time we throw these dangerous weapons out of our house. It’s time we throw these dangerous mind-corrupters where they belong! The test is far too great!